Quest Forward Learning Blog Posts

My most recent blog posts can be found on the Quest Forward Learning blog.

Six Essential Habits

Get Active!

Research Brief: Personalized Learning

The Role of Practice in a Post-Memorization World

Project-based Learning, or Just a Project?


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Uncovering and Embracing Teacher Creativity

Yesterday I facilitated a jam packed session on teacher creativity at the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC). We talked about what it means to be a creative teacher and how to become more creative. The importance of trying new things, taking risks and iterating came up throughout the session.

One teacher summed it up well: “The art of teaching is all about being in the moment while you’re creating and adapting”.

Here are the slides from the presentation. These activities are great for teachers and administrators to start thinking about their own creativity, how to be brave and take positive steps towards being more creative.

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Meeting of the Mavericks 2: Teaching Game Design

A great discussion on teaching game design.

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A sneak peek into WEx research findings


Earlier this year, I conducted a research study on behalf of the Working Examples team. We wanted to know first-hand why people use WEx and what they get from the site and community. Why do they use it? How does it help them? Does it benefit their professional learning?

I interviewed six people in the community about their participation on the site. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the findings…

  •  They use WEx to stay up to date with happenings in the WEx community and field, connect with new people and ideas, and share work in “untraditional” ways.
  • Some participants think creating Examples and participating in the community helped them learn something new, by supporting their workflow and reflection on their work and providing new perspectives to reframe their thinking.

Here’s what the participants have to say about Working Examples:

They use WEx to keep up with the field.

“for me it’s like a magazine. It’s a magazine of people that’s about learning design and educational technology. And so I sorta treat it as such. I get ideas for projects. I find out about people. I think it’s important because I don’t think there’s a really good source to find out about projects, like ongoing projects.

They use WEx to connect with new ideas and people.

“this is about finding out interesting projects and people behind the projects. I feel like it’s a cool way to access the brains of people that I wouldn’t otherwise have [access to].”

They appreciate how WEx allows people to share work in “untraditional” ways.

“I like the sort of alternative way of sharing and representing work and the possibility of engaging around it in different ways than are afforded by normal academic routes…Working Examples lets us sorta pull back the curtain and show what’s really happening and how to make it better for everyone else who’s interested in that sorta thing.”

“I want to create resources that will be useful for other people and leverage this format to put our content into it so that it’s very accessible to people.”

They learned about their own work, by reflecting on their Examples.

“it’s a good way of logging all the progress and putting it out there and even when I move away from [my current job] at one point if I do, it’s a good place to go back to and like okay this is what I did and I find it like a good way to journal things… it helps me review the whole thing. And then as I’m writing stuff and digging back through our archives and pulling things up I’m going ‘oh I remember this now. So we need to do this differently this time around’”

“it was a good introduction to just get me quickly to wrestling with the important issues of what our project was really about and what was important about it and how to show that to people.”

New perspectives from the community helped reframe their thinking.

“there’s not as much downside risk as I originally thought about talking about things before they’re ready. Part of it’s like, no one really cares. No one cares about your failure more than you do”

“There’s something about the Working Examples format that encourages people to be honest about their journey.”

“The quote [in someone else’s Example] about institutions being about education and people being about learning across these institutions, like that sort of reframed [my thinking] in such a way that it made sense and was catchy, something I can remember, something I can talk to other people about when I’m trying to get them to understand the way I think about people learning and learning spaces and schools… So, that was the thing I just learned today.”

I’m working on a paper for a journal that goes into more detail and includes some of the challenges that came up during interviews. More on that later…

A version of this post was originally published on

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Badgineers Small Talk

Last week a group of us from the WEx community came together to talk about digital badges.

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Meeting of the mavericks: Games in the classroom

Just had an awesome conversation with a bunch of maverick teachers. Take a peek to see how they’re using games in their classrooms.

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GLS 2014 design jam

The slides from our GLS design jam – building a foundation for impactful work.

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Disseminating research design and practice

I spend lots of time thinking about the best ways to disseminate research to impact practice. Here’s what Audrey Waters and Drew Davidson have to say about the topic.

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Improvement research

This post is about a type of research that’s applicable to all of us – improvement research. Teachers, admins, informal educators, designers and policy makers: keep reading because we can ALL use improvement research to assess changes in practices and get better at what we do.

Even though I’m a researcher, “improvement research” is still new to me. I used to think almost any research could count as improvement research. Don’t we all hope our research helps to improve something – student learning, teacher practices, or design of learning tools? After attending the Carnegie Foundation Summit on Improvement in Education earlier this month it’s all become much clearer. Both improvement research and traditional academic research are incredibly important for understanding, supporting and improving education and learning, but they are not the same.

What’s improvement research?
Improvement research is done to produce and assess changes in practice. Unlike traditional academic research, the goal isn’t to produce and test theories about the relationships between conceptual variables. Instead, it’s about testing hypotheses about how our processes affect outcomes we care about. For example, a teacher might hypothesize that using iPads to play a math game (the process) might help her students to understand how to add fractions (the outcome). Improvement research could be done to iteratively refine the use of iPads and the math game to support the learning of fractions. The teacher could share findings with others colleagues to improve practices across the school district.

Improvement research is designed to help make changes in practice, which means it’s very practical! It doesn’t have to involve excessive amounts of quantitative data (woohoo!), since you only need “just enough” data from small samples. Data collection can fit into existing routines, such as asking students to write down the answer to the same question before leaving class each day, in order to assess a specific learning goal. Anyone interested in improving education and learning, can make small and frequent iterations and use simple measures like this to assess change during practice.

What’s unique and accessible about improvement research is that it doesn’t require special training or large amounts of time or data, so anyone can do it – teachers, administrators, game developers, non-profit organizations…anyone, to assess changes in practices.

An example…
Several years ago I was a literacy coach in Chicago Public schools. Part of my job was to build literacy support tools that were embedded in science curriculum, and to support educators through observations and coaching. We started using these strategies in Environment Science classes, but eventually scaled to Chemistry, Physics, and Biology courses. I needed to know how the literacy tools were used to support student comprehension of content and how the design and use of the tools could be more effective. Based on evidence, the teachers and I made changes on a weekly, if not daily, basis to try and improve the work we were doing.

How did I know what changes to make? How did I know if the changes were effective in improving practices? I focused on asking one question, and I listened. I asked teachers to reflect on the conversations students had during the activities using the literacy tools. I also listened to student conversations and documented the types of questions they were asking. This information was critical for adapting the literacy strategies and how they were used.
We need precise aims and measures to improve our work.
Improvement research involves a continuous cycle of planning, doing, studying, and acting (PDSA).

Modified from Grunow, A. (2014). Measurement for improvement. Improvement Science Basics Workshop. Carnegie Foundation Summit on Education Improvement. March 10, 2014. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

At the start of each PDSA cycle, three questions should be addressed:

1. What are we trying to accomplish? Ideally, in improvement research we need a precise aim we’re trying to reach. This includes how much change, by when, and for what/whom. For the literacy strategy example an aim might have been: By the end of the semester, at least 6 higher-order thinking questions are asked during each reading activity that involves the use of the annotation literacy support tool in the Environment Science 101 course at Obama High School.

2. How will we know that a change is an improvement? We also need precise measures, which can be quantitative or qualitative, for assessing change. One measure of change in the science classrooms could have been the number of higher order thinking questions asked during a class period, tallied up on the chalk board by the teacher or an observer and tracked over the semester. Just answering one question each day can make it clear how changes are resulting in improvements (or not). One thing that this example reiterated for me is that measuring improvement and changes in processes is a lot easier when the data collection strategies are embedded in work we’re already doing.

3. What change(s) can we make that will result in an improvement? Changes can be made at various stages and to different parts of a system, but in this example they were primarily related to design (e.g. the literacy strategies) or implementation (e.g. how the strategies were used in class).

Improvement research is something all of us can do. Improvement research and traditional research both play an important part in improving education and learning. You don’t have to be a trained researcher or an expert on learning theory to do improvement research. You just need something you want to improve. That means that we all play a critical role in research, not just the researchers. To learn more about improvement research and strategies for scaling best practices, check out some of the useful resources from the Carnegie Foundation.

A version of this post was originally published on

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You Say You Want an Innovation: Practical Steps Towards Improvment – Louis Gomez

Louis Gomez gave a wonderful keynote at the Digital Media and Learning Conference last week. He talked about the importance of sharing how we do work and how we “make stuff happen”. This is something we think about a lot at Working Examples. It isn’t enough to just share what we create. Without understanding how work gets done, we can’t bring innovations to life and we can’t replicate or scale innovations. So, how do we share our process (i.e. the how) and continuously improve practices?

Louis starts speaking at 51:55 so you might want to skip ahead! He also talks about some of my work from the Family Share Project starting at 1:24:03.

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